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Manpreet Singh, Rani Rampal open up about Indian hockey teams' Tokyo Olympics campaign

Published at :August 10, 2021 at 9:55 PM
Modified at :December 13, 2023 at 1:01 PM
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(Courtesy : Hockey India)

Gagan


Both the hockey teams had memorable outings at the Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo Olympics 2020 has been a memorable tournament for Indian hockey. Both the men's and women's national teams performed brilliantly at the Summer Games. The men's team ended a wait of 41 years for a podium finish in the quadrennial event by clinching the bronze medal, however, the women's team were not so lucky.

The Indian women's hockey team inspired an entire nation by their performance. They were very close to replicating their male counterparts but ultimately finished at the fourth place. Outgoing coach Sjoerd Marijne praised the achievement saying that the team had achieved more than a medal for the country.

Following their heroics at the Summer Games, the Men's and Women's hockey team captains Manpreet Singh and Rani Rampal spoke about their respective campaigns in a media interaction after they returned to India.

Inspiring the next generation

Before the Tokyo Olympics 2020, India had not won a hockey medal at event in 41 years. The most successful nation in the sport has gone through some extremely tough phases in recent times. However, the painful wait for hockey fans finally ended in Tokyo Olympics under the leadership of Manpreet Singh.

“This is a big thing for hockey because, after 41 years, there had been a long gap since we last won a medal. The medal was (won) even before I was born. The medal we won will be a motivation for the upcoming generations. This is because they have seen live that we won a medal in hockey. I think for them the motivation will be that this team won bronze and now they will represent India and try to win gold."

He also spoke about the importance of adjusting to the climatic conditions in Japan. "In 2019, our team had already played matches in Japan. We knew that there is a lot of heat there. So, we tried to get used to the conditions. We used to do our training sessions in the afternoon so that we do not have much problem adjusting to the weather during the Olympics. So, it has benefitted both us and the women’s team," said Manpreet.

Down, but not out

"After we lost 7-1 (against Australia), we analyzed the data. Yes, the margin was big but somewhere we had played well. It’s not that we had played an extremely poor game. I said to everyone that we can beat anyone and the only thing we need to do is to continue to believe in ourselves. We had sacrificed a lot and didn’t want to lose this opportunity."

"After we lost in the semi-finals, again we were very disappointed. When we came back to the dressing room, the coach told me that our Prime Minister wants to speak to us. He told us that we had played very well and not to be disappointed. Just focus on your game. (PM Modi) He and the entire country is very proud of us. He also told us to focus on the upcoming match (bronze medal match). It felt very good that our Prime Minister and the country is with us. So, we thought we should stay positive," said the Indian hockey captain on the team's setbacks in Tokyo Olympics.

Manpreet Singh also revealed how the hockey team composed themselves and focused on the crucial Tokyo Olympics bronze medal match against Germany.

"We had a team meeting. We said that we wanted to reach the final but that opportunity is now gone. If we do not win a bronze medal here, we will go back empty-handed. Our entire life, we will be having regrets. So, we have the last 60 minutes of our life. If we give our best in these last 60 minutes, we will go back home with smiles on our faces," he quipped.

Speaking about the nerve-wracking end to the match against Germany, Manpreet said, "When Germany got the penalty corner in the last six seconds, the only thought was we have to defend it in any way. We have one of the best penalty corner defence. The thinking was that no matter what happens, the ball should not go into the back of our net."

Signalling a new era in women's hockey

Indian women's hockey team skipper Rani Rampal spoke about their valiant effort in Tokyo Olympics and being overwhelmed with the love upon landing in India. “Despite losing, people are still showering us with so much love and respect. After coming back home, it feels like we have definitely done something good. We were very disappointed there as we didn’t win a medal. I think for women’s hockey, this is the best era."

"We played a very good semi-final match and lost narrowly (2-1 vs. Argentina). We were very disappointed after the match. I told everyone that we still have a medal to fight for. In the next match also (bronze medal match vs. Great Britain), we again fought valiantly. But unfortunately, it was not our day," said Rani.

The women's hockey team didn't have a good start to the Tokyo Olympics. They lost their first three Pool A matches against the Netherlands, Germany and Great Britain. Despite this, the team didn't lose belief in themselves.

"After losing the first three matches, everyone thought that the women’s team will now be eliminated from the tournament. The coaching staff helped us so that our confidence does not go down. After that, we bounced back as a team. There is a lot of courage needed for what we were able to do."

"These Olympics will always remain special to us. I have never seen so much respect and love before for women’s hockey in India. It felt like we are also medalists, there wasn’t much difference between them and us," stated the national team captain.

Looking ahead to the future

Rani Rampal also spoke about how the fitness levels have improved in the Indian women's hockey team.

"Earlier, we always lacked fitness-wise against European teams and they used to dominate matches. Our scientific advisor Wayne Lombard has worked a lot on the team’s fitness. We do not lack fitness-wise against any team now. If your fitness is good, you can utilize your hockey skills properly in modern hockey. Every team has its strengths and weaknesses. The European teams are not used to playing short passes. So, we try to play in that way against them as they are not used to it," she said.

The team is now looking forward to the upcoming competitions and will look to carry this momentum going forward.

"Next year will be very important to us. The Commonwealth Games and Asian Games are coming up. There is also Asia Cup for World Cup qualification. So, our focus will be on performing better in the upcoming competitions," Rani concluded.

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